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The food and beverage concepts of the Continental Gin Building

August 6th, 2023

A steakhouse, a martini bar, a sushi omakase restaurant and a coffee shop walk into the Continental Gin Building.

They ask the landlord if it’s alright to hang around for a while. And the landlord says yes. 

It’s not as if the Continental Gin Building is the home of the lotus-eaters, where visitors, enchanted by the local cuisine, forget about returning to their daily lives.

But if someone walks into the historic Deep Ellum property for a morning coffee, there’s a chance they’ll stay all day.

And that’s just how Dallas-based August Real Estate, the firm that owns the building, likes it.

A decade in California convinced company co-founder Evan August that Dallas was missing creative offices — spaces finished with hardwood or sealed-concrete floors and exposed brick and ceilings. Industrial-feeling, they embrace and emphasize the raw materials. They’re where creative companies want to be, August says.

Constructed in 1888, the three-story structure now known as the Continental Gin Building was owned by the Munger Improved Cotton Machine Manufacturing Co., once a large manufacturer of cotton gins and related equipment. For the August family, the building was the perfect canvas for a creative office in Dallas. 

“We thought it was going to be mostly office,” says August, who co-founded August Real Estate with his brother, Jordan. “We were hopeful that the ground floor was going to accommodate retail.”

After the building was acquired, the area around it saw development and densification with additions including Baylor Scott & White’s headquarters on North Washington Avenue and the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge campus on North Hall Street. Hosting retail in the Continental Gin Building seemed less like a dream, August says.

Around mid-2020, August made a deal with Common Desk to operate coworking space upstairs and a Fiction Coffee in the lobby.

Nick Clark, the founder and CEO of Common Desk, says the idea was to use the coffee shop to differentiate the Continental Gin Building from other offices. It’s the first thing visitors see when they walk inside. 

“Really what we set out to do with the August family is to try to almost bury the lead that it’s an office building,” Clark says. “The hope and the idea with the Continental Gin Building was that you walk into the building and that it almost feels and interacts more like a boutique hospitality environment as opposed to an office building.”

Fiction Coffee isn’t supposed to be a place to grab a cup and go. The goal is for customers to embrace their surroundings while enjoying food and drinks. The shop sources coffee beans from North Carolina-based Counterculture and partners with local businesses such as Starship Bagel to bring in food items. A rotating coffee menu keeps drinks seasonal.

Fiction Coffee is flanked on both sides by food and beverage concepts. On one end sit Tina’s Continental and Tatsu Dallas, and on the other, construction is underway on a steakhouse called Let’s Ask Keith.

Tatsu, a 10-seat sushi omakase restaurant, signed a lease with August Real Estate for a 2,000-square-foot space in April 2021.

Coming from New York, Tatsuya Sekiguchi — often called Chef Tatsu — wanted to find a building with the right energy for his new restaurant, he tells the Advocate with the help of a translator.

Sekiguchi discovered the Continental Gin Building online and visited it in person, finding it familiar. The red-brick facade reminded him of the exterior of Omakase Room by Tatsu, a restaurant he started in New York’s West Village. And the facility was built around the same time as the restaurant Sekiguchi’s family has owned for generations in Japan.

Construction was extensive: Walls, plumbing, a grease trap and ventilation had to be added prior to the restaurant’s May 2022 opening date.

Since then, the restaurant has been serving a chef-determined menu of 15-18 courses to two seatings of customers nightly. Tatsu Dallas is not yet 2 years old, but it’s already earning recognition. Earlier this year, the James Beard Foundation named it a semifinalist for the Best New Restaurant award.

The food and beverage concepts literally feed off of each other; Sekiguchi said the Tatsu Dallas staff frequents Fiction Coffee, and they see the two newest tenants — Tina’s Continental and the forthcoming steakhouse, Let’s Ask Keith — as positive additions to the building.

The food and beverage concepts literally feed off of each other; Sekiguchi said the Tatsu Dallas staff frequents Fiction Coffee, and they see the two newest tenants — Tina’s Continental and the forthcoming steakhouse, Let’s Ask Keith — as positive additions to the building.

Limited parking is something Sekiguchi is worried about, though.

But Elias Pope, a co-owner of the group behind Tina’s Continental and Let’s Ask Keith (along with Milli, HG Sply Co. and Leela’s) says they’ll have a valet with 180 parking spots off-site.

Pope’s company, UNCO, was asked by August Real Estate to operate a bar at the property. The developer had ideas for the bar, but it wasn’t what UNCO would have done.

“We build thematic spaces,” Pope says. “So we focus heavily on the concept — whereas, this bar was more of a bar, an amenity to the building.”

But Pope wanted to work with August Real Estate because of their commitment to holding properties for generations, rather than building to sell. So the UNCO team developed their own plan for an 800-square-foot martini bar inspired by the Lincoln Continental Mark V of the 1970s — specifically, the 1979 edition designed by Bill Blass. 

The bar area is made to look like the car’s bumper, with red lights illuminating cases on either end like tail lights and a half-circle mirror in the middle.

But it’s not just the interior design that draws from the land yacht. Visitors can order from the “Designer Series” — a set list of martinis — or go for a “Custom Build” and customize their own drink. Similarly, Continental buyers could choose a model from the Designer Series, created by Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Cartier and Blass, or build the car to their own specifications.

“We’re not trying to be anything besides a solid martini bar for the community around here,” Pope says. “When Let’s Ask Keith opens, we’re excited to have this space as a unique either start or finish to your dinner.”

While Tina’s is named for the sister of UNCO co-owner Sameer Patel, Let’s Ask Keith is named for Pope’s father. He was the human Google for Pope, growing up in Greenville, Texas, before the internet.

An Oliver tractor that Pope’s grandfather rebuilt will be placed out front to direct people to the 6,100-square-foot steakhouse — enough space to fit 389 diners inside and on the patio.

The menu will contain foods similar to what Pope’s family ate in the country, what they call “East Texas provision”: steaks, potatoes, fresh vegetables and whatever they could wrap in a tortilla (i.e. fajitas).

It’s not a white tablecloth establishment where a steak the size of a child’s hand will set you back a couple of Andrew Jacksons, Pope says. The prices and food will be approachable.

The Continental Gin Building won’t be the only property to manifest the August family’s vision, though. They also own Lakewood Tower and recently acquired 17 buildings in the Exposition Park area, and they have plans for all of it.

“Our strategy as a company now is trying to create some mixed use so that it starts to feed off each other, like the office tenants get to enjoy the retail,” August says. “They populate the retail and give the retail business.” 


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